The education that made India’s space ambitions possible

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief S. Somanath and Minister of State for the Ministry of Science and Technology Jitendra Singh hold a model of spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 during a press conference, after its launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh on July 14, 2023. Source: AFP

India has made it to the moon. 

On Aug. 23, the nation achieved a new milestone as Chandrayaan-3 landed near the moon’s southern polar region — a largely uncharted region of immense interest to scientists and exploration advocates alike.

“India is repeatedly proving that the sky is not the limit,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made himself the face of an ascendant India, said to scientists at the control centre immediately after the landing.

“Science and technology are the foundation of a bright future for our nation.”

The country’s groundbreaking landing on Wednesday means that India is the fourth nation to land on the moon’s surface — after the US, the former Soviet Union and China — and the first to do so on its southern pole.

What makes this landing extra special is the untapped potential of the moon’s south polar region. Countries could mine large amounts of water ice for rocket fuel and life support for future crewed missions. 

The historic touchdown occurred at 6:03 pm India Standard Time, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“We have achieved soft landing on the moon! India is on the moon!” ISRO chairman Sreedhara Somanath announced after the landing.

A solar-powered rover named Pragyan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”) is expected to roll off Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram (“valour”) lander. 

The robotic duo will spend one lunar day (about 14 Earth days) exploring its new home to collect scientific data about the moon’s makeup before its batteries drain after sunset.


The whole nation prayed for the success of Chandrayaan-3. Source: AFP

What is the Chandrayaan-3?

Before we appreciate what this milestone means for India, let’s step back to understand what the Chandrayaan-3 is.

When translated, “Chandrayaan” means “moon vehicle” in Hindi and Sanskrit. 

On July 14, the mission started when Chandrayaan-3 launched from the Bay of Bengal.

The unmanned spacecraft was designed to deploy a 60-pound, solar-powered rover to explore the moon’s surface for two weeks. 

This mission is largely a do-over after the country’s first attempt at putting a robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface nearly four years ago ended in a crash and a crater, according to The New York Times

Previously, India attempted a lunar touchdown in Sept. 2019 with a mission titled “Chandrayaan-2.”

Unfortunately, the mission failed when the Chandrayaan-2 lander had a software glitch. It lost all communication minutes before it was scheduled to land, causing the lander to deviate off course and crash into the moon.

The good news was that the Chandrayaan-2 remained operational and gave ISRO useful data. 

Chandrayaan-3 is taking place amid renewed interest in exploring the moon. The US and China are aiming to send astronauts there in the coming years, along with half a dozen robotic missions from Russia, Japan, and the US, The New York Times reports. 

Earlier this month, Russia launched its lunar exploration spacecraft, marking its first endeavour of its kind in nearly half a century.

Had the mission succeeded, the nation would have achieved the milestone of being the first mission by any country to achieve a controlled landing near the lunar south pole, surpassing Chandrayaan-3 by just a few days.

Unfortunately, officials say that Russia’s unmanned Luna-25 spacecraft has crashed into the moon after spinning out of control, according to BBC.

But who are the brains behind this successful mission? After all, they were the main forces making India proud with such extraordinary achievements. 

This is where they gained the knowledge and skills to prepare them for a successful career at ISRO.


S Somanath is the chairman of ISRO, who is behind the Chandrayaan-3 space mission. Source: AFP

Where the people behind Chandrayaan-3 studied

S Somanath

The brain behind India’s ambitious moon mission is ISRO’s chairman, S Somanath. He has also been credited for accelerating ISRO’s other missions, including Gaganyaan and Sun-mission Aditya-L1.

Somanath took charge of the Indian space agency in January last year and is considered one of the key persons behind India’s ambitious moon mission. 

He has also served as the director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre — the primary centres for the development of rocket technologies for ISRO, before heading India’s space organisation.

He earned his Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from TKM College of Engineering and Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IIS Bangalore).


India celebrates after Chandrayaan-3 landed safely on August 23. Source: AFP

Ritu Karidhal

Ritu Karidhal is an Indian scientist and aerospace engineer working at ISRO.

Her passion for space science dates back to when she was a teenager. Ritu collected newspaper cuttings about space-related activities and tracked what went on at ISRO and NASA.

To get her one step closer to achieving her dream, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in physics before pursuing a master’s degree in the same field at the University of Lucknow.

After graduating, she enrolled in a doctorate course in uni’s physics department and later taught in the same department.

Going one step further in her academic journey, Ritu would pursue another master’s in aerospace engineering at IIS Banglore.

Unsurprisingly, she’s known as the “Rocket Woman of India,” an inspiring example of determination and academic achievement.


The Chnadrayaan-3 began its mission on July 14, 2023. Source: AFP

P. Veeramuthuvel

P. Veeramuthuvel became the project director of the Chandrayaan-3 space mission in 2019.

In this role, he oversees the overall mission of putting together the Chandrayaan-3 in coordination with multiple ISRO centres.

Before taking on this mission, he held the position of Deputy Director of ISRO’s Space Infrastructure Programme Office.

The Indian native played a crucial role in the Chandrayaan-2 mission, being the point person for its negotiations with NASA.

With the knowledge of the Vikram lander, which failed in 2019, Veeramuthuvel has made the necessary improvements to the Chandrayaan-3, ensuring its success.

Veerammuthuvel gained his skills from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-M) when he completed a diploma in mechanical engineering.


S. Unnikrishnan Nair’s education in mechanical engineering gave him the skills to prepare him for a career at ISRO. Source: AFP

S. Unnikrishnan Nair

S. Unnikrishnan Nair is the director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST). 

One of the iconic space vehicles from the VSSC was the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark-III, renamed Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket. 

Along with his team, Nair was responsible for several critical functions of the Chandrayaan-3 mission. Unnikrishnan is the man behind the development of the LVM-3 rocket, also called Bahubali of ISRO that lifted off the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft from Sriharikota. 

To hone his skills, he completed his Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from Kerala University and a master’s in aerospace engineering from IIS Bangalore. 

Nair also gained a PhD in mechanical engineering from IIT Madras and a master’s in telecommunications and space law from NALSAR. 

Muthusamy Sankaran

Muthsamy Sankaran is the director of UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC), a centre part of ISRO that is in charge of the design and development of satellites.

He is known as the powerhouse of ISRO due to his expertise in making power systems and solar arrays that go on to power satellites.

In his three decades of making satellites, he worked on the Chandrayaan-1, Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan-2.

For the Chandryaan-3 space mission, he was in charge of ensuring the satellite was adequately hot and cold-tested and helped to create a lunar surface replica to test the strength of the lander.

To gain the expertise he needed to succeed in this role, Sankaran obtained a master’s degree in physics from Bharathidasan University.

As such, his efforts have not gone unrecognised. Sankaran won the ISRO’s Performance Excellence Award in 2017 and the ISRO Team Excellence Awards in 2017 and 2018.


Kalpana Kalahasti pursued a bachelor’s in electronics and communication to fulfil her dream of working at ISRO. Source: AFP

Kalpana Kalahasti

Kalpana Kalahasti is one of the 54 women involved in the Chandrayaan-3 mission. 

As deputy project director, her role was essential to ensure the project’s success. 

Born in Bengaluru, Kalapana dreamed of joining the ISRO. 

To achieve this goal, she left for Chennai to further her studies after graduating from IIT-Kharagpur with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Later, she pursued a Bachelor of Technology in Electronics and Communication at Madras University. 

Her dream finally came true when she was selected to join ISRO in 2000 after a rigorous selection process. 

Here, Kalpana started her career as a radar engineer at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR).

She is one of the many female scientists who have significantly contributed to ISRO’s space missions. 

Before Chadrayaan-3, she worked on the second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2 and the Mangalyaan mission. 

Her achievements have earned her several awards and recognitions, including the ISRO Team Excellence Award in 2019. 

Asked about her thoughts on the recent successful landing of Chandrayaan-3, Kalahasti shared in a press conference: “This is the most memorable and the happiest moment for all of us and for our team at Chandrayaan-3.” Kalpana shares on the successful space mission. 

She adds: “We have achieved our goal flawlessly. This happened due to the immense effort of our Chandrayaan-3 team. Since the day we started building our spacecraft after Chandrayaan-3, it has been breathe in and breathe out Chandrayaan-3 for our team.”